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Dog Jack: The Heartwarming Story of a Runaway Slave and His Best Friend

By Florence W. Biros
Sonrise Publications

51 Greenfield Road
New Wilmington, PA 16142

Dog Jack: The Heartwarming Story of a Runaway Slave and His Best Friend is a glossy, soft-cover book of 182 pages. The end of the book includes grayscale pictures described as a "Living History Gallery . . . Photos taken at Gettysburg's 125th Anniversary" on July 2-4, 1988. Our review copy included a matching 6-inch "Dog Jack" plush toy, complete with tiny Civil War cap. Dog Jack, the hero of the novel, was the mascot of the 102nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, and the story was also the inspiration for a Family Feature Film. Information taken from the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was used as framework for the story. A faded snapshot of a dog, along with the tribute to him because of the way he followed his friends into battle and fought alongside them, fueled the story. Major details were supplied by Chaplain A.M. Stewart in his book Camp, March and Battlefield, which included feelings written about the dog. Otherwise, characters and events of the story are fictionalized, including Jed, the slave boy, and Matt, the fireman. The author clarifies the line between fiction and reality in a brief Foreword.

The 21 chapters are of various lengths, generally between seven and ten pages. Additional material is not required, although further research on the Civil War is ideal when using the book in the homeschool setting. The book is published by Son-Rise Publications, a company whose motto is, "We aim to have His Son-Rise in every heart." They also stress morally sound and solid writing in their books. The website also includes the following, "With special emphasis on Christian Schools and Homeschoolers, a Study Guide is offered for FREE with a book purchase on many of our books." One is available for the Dog Jack book.

If your family is looking for a good read with information about the more human side of the Civil War, Dog Jack is a good choice. I read this story to my sons at bedtime, and we completed the book in only five nights as they begged to read "just one more chapter!" The story tells of a runaway slave, Jed, now working in a firehouse, and his dog companion, Dog Jack. When the story digressed to exactly why and how Jed came to run away, we were engrossed in the reading. We read seven chapters that night! The story does include serious subject matter, such as the deaths of family members, slave beatings, and some of the reality of life as a Civil War soldier. It includes a good glimpse of historical happenings, and we found it appropriate for upper elementary-aged children and older.

The writing includes what I would call "language of historical color," to the point that my son had to ask me why I was talking in a funny way every time Jed said something in the story. So I showed him some of Jed's dialogue in the book, which included phrases like "Wha's dat?" "We's in for it!" and "Don't reckon I unnerstand, suh, why any No'thern officer treat me like that? I's signin' up to help his army." The writing was very good, making it fairly easy to understand such unfamiliar dialect. Without revealing the ending, which is both sad and comforting at the same time, I will note that if your children get very attached to book characters, you will want to read this book together. The companion plush toy is adorable; it has incredibly soft fur and a very cute little hat.

The grayscale pictures at the back of the book, as well as a few scattered within the story, added to the information and provided a good visual break to help my sons better understand the story. Unfortunately, I am uncertain how many more times I will be able to read this book to my younger sons as the binding cracked, which shifted pages so that they are now coming unglued from the spine. We only opened this book five times for our reading, not nearly enough to cause such wear. I hope the binding holds up enough for me to read the book to my younger sons someday.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dog Jack: The Heartwarming Story of a Runaway Slave and His Best Friend. My children love dogs, so this book was a wonderful choice to pique their interest as an introduction to a Civil War study. Older children could freely read the story, as it does not include any blatantly immoral acts and consistently draws back to what is right. The use of Chaplain Stewart to introduce Jed's questioning of his own feelings and frustrations is very nicely done and provides a biblical undertone to the entire story. Dog Jack would be a wonderful addition to any home library.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, June 2010

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